A vague, if somewhat wordy, definition of ceremonial magick can be given thus: "the use of visualizations conceived and guided by one's thoughts, emotions, and imagination (in meditation, ritual, and creation) among other things, which greatly influencing and 'cross-fertilizing' each other build up a vividness in consciousness sufficient to create dramatic changes in one's states of spirit, mind, and even body (or anything else in one's physical experience as well, if by some means an effective physical link to the act of visualization is created and properly maintained by the operator...).". Underlying this definition are a number of assumptions which ought to be explored in greater depth. In the magical universe each thing is connected to every other thing across the entire continuum of existence. Being is ultimately just an endless synecdoche where each part represents the whole and the whole represents each part; thus, the opposition between oneness and infinite multiplicity is continually resolving itself. The ancient and medieval magicians labeled the two branches of this omnipresent dichotomy Microcosm & Macrocosm - 'small universe' and 'large universe'. Usually they were referring to individual humans as a microcosm of the Universe in which they live (becoming aware of oneself as such a microcosm is analogous to what many mystic traditions call "Union with God"), but they also recognized micro/macrocosmic relationships within the natural world, the social order, even within the realms of those animated amalgams of morality and imagination which they called angels, spirits, intelligences, or demons.
In such a scheme each thing is not merely connected with every other thing, but all things coexist in an endless series of hierarchies. The molecule in one of your cells is to that cell as that cell is to your entire body. Your body is to the entire human species as that species is to all life on Earth, which itself mirrors all life, which life mirrors all being, which being mirrors all non-being; and thus was the Creation done with mirrors! It is within these imagined hierarchies that the Law of Correspondences reigns supreme. "As above, so below." If enough molecules are disrupted by radiation the cell will die. Scramble enough of its cells and the organism dies. Kill enough organisms and the whole ecosystem collapses. Thus, the physical world is revealed as a delicate house of cards; all the more so for the worlds of human beings, who carry their universes around inside their heads, out of direct contact with so-called reality. Of course, in actual fact, the world of imagination is every bit as real as the world of chemical and physical reactions. Most certainly it is an entirely different order of reality, but it is a reality nonetheless, with its own special rules and conditions. The fear that leads most people to reject the reality of their imaginings is based upon their confusion when suddenly confronted by non-rational planes where different rules than reason must predominate (by the same token, when the rational rules which so well suit the everyday world are applied on the planes of the spirit the results are always absurd and often dangerous, e.g., the imperial Roman cult of the Divine Emperors, Roman Catholicism's Inquisition, Pentecostal Christianity's "snakehandlers", and the Ayatollah Khomeini of Shi'a Islam). The elite of humanity has generally been content enough to allow this confusion between the planes of existence (and the fear which results from it) to continue to limit the majority of the species from experiencing their full power. Perhaps this is merely resignation in the face of the inevitable, or is justified as part of the vigorous weeding out of all but the very best to be humanity's shepherds, or perhaps it is a cynical maneuver to turn this particular house of cards into a stacked deck. In any case, itıs the happy and successful human beings who have learned to shuffle their mental cards and cut their decks at will, creating those situations which they personally find most useful.
The earlier philosophers of magick believed that the correspondences between various levels and hierarchies create an effect, which they called Sympathetic Influence, that connects different things and/or events. In modern parlance this facet of experience is called coincidence ('happening together') instead of sympathy ('feeling together', a verbal animism which has since gone out of style), and it is not in any way to be confused with causality. Charlatans will tell you that the positions of the planets at the time of your birth are the cause of your circumstances or behavior. Science tells us this causal connection is completely unsupported; however, these planetary positions, drawn up in the form of a horoscope, can be a very powerful tool to use in rearranging and revitalizing your personal existence (astrology can also be a powerful tool for deluding oneself, this is why it is very often said, even by fools, that "A wise man rules his stars, and a fool is ruled by them"). In a similar way, a magical ritual never causes anything to happen unless in the strictest scientific sense (that is, whenever some ritual action has itself become a physical cause, as for instance when burning incense causes ashes, or making loud incantations at 3 A.M. causes one's neighbors to call the police), but it may at the same time be part of a wide-ranging and remarkable series of coincidences. To give one representative example: the ritual sacrifices of the ancient Israelite priests were 'causal' in relationship to the deaths of many animals and the feeding of many priests, but they were 'coincidental' in relationship to the semantic and spiritual life of the entire Hebrew nation. The specific rituals of a tribal group cannot be said to 'cause' individuals to have a tribal identity, any more than tribal identities can be said to 'cause' specific rituals. Yet a change in a tribe's ritual is coincidental to a change in its group identity, and vice versa. Similarly, human beings always change the Universe when they change themselves, and change themselves when they change the Universe. On a purely personal level many people experience miraculous occurrences which would appear perfectly explainable to a scientist. Too often modern man is stymied in the face of this fact of coincidence. In searching out the causes of things reason has served humanity phenomenally well, but it grows dizzy, spinning in circles, whenever it is forced to confront coincidence. The final victory of reason comes only when its unflinching exercise leads us to see that there are a few areas of our experience where its own use must be suspended in order for us to achieve a real mastery of our circumstances. Such is certainly the case in the area of morality, where pride of place in our decision-making must be given to emotion and not to reason; neither those societies which graciously suffer the inefficiencies of individual choice nor those individuals who courageously sacrifice themselves for the good of society can be called entirely rational. Conversely, it seems that the morality of unbalanced, unemotional reason leads inevitably to such "final solutions" as the murder of millions of innocent people.
In the area of coincidence, reason must yield not to our emotive promptings but rather to our faculty of imagination. This is often the case whenever humans confront open-ended concepts like 'infinity', 'eternity', 'chaos', 'chance', or 'creation'. Even though we begin with a comprehensive set of assumptions, that everything is linked, that there are many layers of these linkages (correspondences), and that things which are not causally connected may yet be subject to mutual affect by coincidence (Sympathetic Influences), there is nonetheless a vital place for some agency of individual will to discover, order, and utilize specifically chosen linkages out of what is an admittedly infinite sea of nets of circumstance and chains of events. While, in dealing with finite questions, reason is among the most admirable of human faculties, in dealing with questions of infinite possibility (even though this infinite possibility may occur within some very finite limitations; for example, there are an infinite number of exact heights which a human being may be, but one mile tall is not one of them) it is upon unbridled imagination that we may most surely rely. All of our mythologies, theologies, psychologies, no matter how we cloak them with reason and logic, system and experiment, are in some way an exercise in group imagination. The story of George Washington and the cherry tree is true, whether it ever actually took place or not. The most learned philosophers of a millennium ago knew that the Sun revolved around the center of the Earth, and this fact fit in perfectly with everything else that they knew about their world. Possessed of a different set of facts, the most learned philosophers of four centuries ago knew that the Earth revolves around a central Sun. Today our most learned philosophers recognize that both the Earth and Sun are traveling around a point which is not at the center of either one of them (though it is beneath the outer surface of the Sun). In fact, it is often the strictest mathematical and 'scientific' models of reality which have most challenged humanity's imagination; similarly, it is lack of imagination which has most stifled rational inquiry into the nature of things. Religious imagination has dreamt up myriads of schemes to organize humanity's Universe, from Taoism's duality of Yin and Yang to the Hebrew mystic's Tree of Life with its Ten Emanations, from Roman Catholicism's trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to the Buddhist's Great Wheel with its Six Realms. Imagination has also dreamt up myriads of links between and upon its varied planes, by the color and shape of a plant, the behavior of an animal, the position of a star, or the numerical value of a name. Even an attribute as simple as proximity can create a link between things, according to the magical principle of Contagion.
In the modern tradition of ceremonial magick these different linkages created by imagination are called "magical links". As the English ceremonial magician and publicity hound Aleister Crowley says in Magick in Theory and Practice: "The Magical Link may be classified under three main heads; as it involves (1) one plane and one person, (2) one plane and two or more persons, (3) two planes."
The first type involves all thaumaturgy and theurgy which is directed at self-transformation, self-healing, personal regeneration, and the like. Since these workings involve the clarification and rearrangement of the aspects of one's own being they possess a built-in magical link, that is, the magician's own person. Ritual objects, physical and mental exercises, sounds, substances, all these and other things may be used to stimulate both the conscious and unconscious powers of concentration, but the link itself is not formed by any of these externalities, but rather by and within the pneuma and/or psyche of the magical practitioner concerned.
The second class of link involves magical operations where one person seeks to affect some other person(s). Here the magical link is based upon the similarities between human minds; one mind may easily be influenced by what another mind imagines. One person's post-hypnotic suggestion can never compel other people to do things which are against their wills, but it may induce or trick them into actions which they would never otherwise have come to perform. Slogans and jingles are not exactly prayers or magical incantations, but they may well spell the difference between life and death for both political prisoners and soft-drink manufacturers. Hypnosis, propaganda, advertising, and similar attempts at manipulation operate by direct communication, whether this is consciously or unconsciously perceived by the targets of the message. Successful magick of this second type utilizes the linkages, not only of these direct communications, but also of influences of a more indirect nature. For example, a lock of one's hair, or one's favorite old hat, is in magical theory linked to oneself whether it has been removed from one's head or not; this is part of the theory behind trying to influence someone by making an image of them using their own hair, clothing, etc., and then subjecting this image to whatever the operator wishes to befall the subject of attack. Here the Sympathy which already exists between a person and their image is heightened by using materials which have been intimately connected to or contiguous with that person. Though it is said to be the image, and the hair or whatever, which form the magical link, an operation of this sort can in fact only be successfully effected by the victory of a magician's will over the will of a victim. This is why the successful practitioners of evil magick invariably make sure to inspire as much fear in their victims as they can, by informing them, directly through subconscious and semiconscious cues, or indirectly through dreams and sendings, that they are indeed undergoing an attack. In cases like this the victim's best defenses are a strong will, a sense of humor, and a regular practice of some discipline of healthy breathing.
The third category of magical link is that of connections between separate planes. In this type of operation one seeks to effect changes in the very nature of the Universe, and in that way it is the very opposite of the first category. Yet paradoxically, complete success in operations of the first kind is generally a prerequisite for success in workings of this kind. In rituals of self-transformation one strives to align one's will with the divine will of the Universe. In rituals of the third class one seeks to align the Universal will with one's own. But such a feat in fact may only be performed by one whose will is already in total alignment with divine will. Seen in this light, magick of the third type is revealed as merely a delusion on the part of any outside observer(s). The Universal will does not bend to the will of the miracle worker; rather, there is but a single will shared by the microcosmic mage and the macrocosmic image. This is an esoteric meaning hiding in the Monothelite "heresy" which portrayed Jesus Christ as both a True Man and a True God, yet possessed of only a single Will. To work miracles an unbreakable magical link must be forged between a human being and divine totality. Crowley reflects this realization when he writes (in the same book mentioned above): "...we can never affect anything outside ourselves save only as it is also within us. Whatever I do to another, I do also to myself. If I kill a man, I destroy my own life at the same time. That is the magical meaning of the so-called 'Golden Rule'... Every vibration awakens all others of its particular pitch."
You will find that success in the creation of magical links is greatly enhanced and maintained by a proper understanding of their mechanism. The magical link is NOT a means by which desired events may be caused, but rather a device by which desired coincidences may be perceived. If you delude yourself into thinking that you are the cause of all the amazing coincidences that you will inevitably experience in your practice of magick then you are also running the risk of serious disappointment, and what is more you might miss out entirely on whatever is actually there for you. For make no mistake, the earnest practice of this art can lead to moral and imaginative crises of a most powerfully transformative nature, often resulting, for better or worse, in a new you in a new Universe.